Who Will Win The Big Sky?

The Big Sky is one of the deepest conference top to bottom. Predicting a winner is difficult. Last year was my first attempt to take emotion out of it and use analytics to predict the winner. How I did this was combination of a “True Skill Ranking” and “Strength of Schedule” calculation.

Before we get into this year. It is a fair question to ask, How did last year go? How accurate is this? It is a little difficult to compare as I originally completed predicitons before five Big Sky Schools opted out of Spring. Lets look anyway with removing the teams that did not play and adjusting.

Predicted FinishTeamPredicted RecordActual FinishTeamActual Record
1Weber State6-01Weber State5-0
2E.Washington5-12E.Washington5-1
t3UC Davis4-2t3UC Davis3-2
t3N.Arizona4-2t3N.Arizona3-2
5Idaho2-4t5Idaho2-4
t-6Idaho State1-5t5Idaho State2-4
t-6Cal Poly1-57S.Utah1-5
8S.Utah0-68Cal Poly0-3

I will let you all determine if this was succesful or not, especially with last springs circumstances. But at least now you know how it did.

This season will be a test as all 13 current Big Sky Football Conference teams are playing. This is also only looking at the conference schedule. The out of conference schedule has not been included. Also the database used to calculate my True Skill rankings are not released yet. These prediciton are stricly of SOS and leave room for updating before conference kickoff.

Before we get into predicitons, lets take a look at some of the oddities of the 2nd annual Strength of Schedule Tub Table.

Obviously this system is not perfect, I am the first to acknowledge this. As Weber State (Preseason pick to win conference) benefits from not playing themselves and vice versa Northern Colorado and Cal Poly are punished for not playing themselves.

That being said it is the second time in as many seasons Weber State has the path of least resistance to win the championship. Montana State and Eastern Washington have a weird scenario too. Eastern Washington has the toughest schedule at home (Montana,Idaho,Weber & Montana State). While Montana State has toughest road schedule (Portland State, Weber State, Eastern Washington & Montana). Then they swap and Eastern has the least difficult road schedule. While Montana State has by far the easiest schedule at home. sidenote, I honestly wonder how season ticket sales are going with no Choate, 18 months of no football and a lackluster home schedule.

If you are looking for this years dark horse, Northern Arizona harbors 3rd easiest schedule and only by 2 points. The Standard Deviation for strength of schedule is 9.4. Being only 2 points off from easiest schedule is a big benefit to the lumberjacks of Flagstaff. To their defense, Shaun Rainey of SWX Montana and Colter Nuanez of Skyline Sports have been high on Portland State, Even saying they are top four in big sky. They do have 5th easiest schedule in the conference and could be one of those annual dark horses the big sky seems to get every year.

Okay enough of me nerding out over schedule strength statistics that really dont mean anything once the ball is kicked off to what you are all here for… using those useless statistics to make analytical predictions for each team in the conference.

t13. Cal Poly 0-8

t13. Northern Colorado 0-8

11. Southern Utah 1-7

t10. Portland State 2-6

t10. Idaho State 2-6

8. Idaho 3-5

t5.Northern Arizona 5-3

t5. Montana State 5-3

t5. UC Davis 5-3

t3. Eastern Washington 7-1

t3. Sac State 7-1

t1. Montana 8-0

t1. Weber State 8-0

Reminder these are not my predictions. You can tune into our live youtube show August 10th around 8 PT with Skyline Sports Colter Nuanez to hear how myself and the rest of the team think conference season will go.

*** As always I”m not an journalist so, take your gramatical error comments, & put them in a beg some-Where. Hope you enjoyed the content regarless if you maid it too dis disclaimer 😉

Tubs Preseason Big Sky Poll

We submitted three polls to the conference office. Here is how the three of us voted and why.

Chris
Brian
Dallas
1Weber StateMontanaWeber State
2EWUMontana StateEWU
3MontanaWeber StateMontana
4UC DavisEWUSac State
5Montana StateSac StateMontana State
6NAUUC DavisUC Davis
7Idaho StateIdahoIdaho State
8IdahoIdaho StateNAU
9SUUUNCIdaho
10Sac StateSUUSUU
11Cal PolyPortland StatePortland State
12UNCNAUUNC
13Portland StateCal PolyCal Poly

For those of you that read our Preseason All-Conference Team post you can see our picks for All-Conference lead to our opinions on our polls.

Further Explanations

Chris:

  • Weber State at 1 – The Wildcats return possibly the best Secondary in the FCS. Three members of the secondary made our All-Tubs Team. Bronson Barron (technically a true freshman still) had barely been on campus and had to compete for starting job last season. That is not the case this fall, he will be receiving all the reps. Pair that with former Jerry Rice Award winner Josh Davis and an emerging stable of backs returning. The Achilles heel of this program, the offense, has to take a step forward. Even if the offense doesn’t improve, they have still won four straight Big Sky titles. Why would I bet against them?

  • Montana at 3 – Look even with some “?” still at QB. This team returns a lot of talent. How bad could it be when you get to throw to Maybe the best WR in the FCS, Sammy Akem. If the QB works out, they could easily win the conference. But right now with Weber returning Bronson & Eastern returning EB3, I gave them the SMALL nod over the Griz. Its going to be a close race this year.

  • Sacramento State at 10 – I understand I’m sticking my neck out with this one. I just think the 2019 season was a flash in the pan. I expect this team to be closer to their 42-28 home playoff loss to start the playoffs, more then the 49-22 win vs the Griz. The Hornets in my opinion benefited greatly from being a sleeper until about half way through the 2019 season, an out of nowhere QB (who has since transferred out) and no one having tape on first time head ball coach Troy Taylor. I expect them to struggle early and maybe make a charge late. Are they the 10th best team in conference probably not, probably a bit better. But weeks 1 thru 6 I expect them to play below where most people have them. Most throw out the easy schedule this year as a reason to have them high. I think the easy schedule will catch them sleep walking with rust early. Though lighting can strike the same spot twice…

Brian:

  • Weber State at 3 – Defending Big Sky champion Weber State (finally) looks vulnerable. The Wildcats won a single spring game by a margin greater than a touchdown–with all of those nail biters coming against teams that will be picked in the bottom half of this fall’s season–but Weber’s schedule, and Jay Hill’s tendency to just never lose games he shouldn’t, makes a 6-2 (in conference) floor all but locked in.

  • Idaho at 7 – This vote was a strict judgement of talent–which should put Idaho not in the top tier of the conference, but close enough to talk yourself into yet another but maybe this year discussion.

    Which is lunacy.

    We all know the Idaho blueprint from the previous three years: stay competitive at home, but faceplant on the road. Hang with, or knock off a playoff-level team, then stumble in comical fashion against the Northern Colorados, or Northern Arizonas occupying league’s bottom tier. Never mind that Idaho has its toughest league schedule since rejoining the Big Sky. 

    So yes: in my written-in-blood preseason poll, Idaho sits at number seven. And yes: the moment my poll was officially sent, I could not believe their slot was higher than ten.

  • Northern Colorado at 9 – Consider Northern Colorado a composite character of Idaho, Idaho State, Southern Utah, and Northern Arizona: it’s an absolute crap shoot rating any of those teams above each other. Before the Bears land higher than ninth, we’ll need to see the fruits of Coach McCaffrey produce. The talent influx following McCaffrey alone will make Northern Colorado at least good enough to spoil someone else’s playoff hopes, but with the promising spring efforts from other projected lower-tier teams, there’s too crowded a field of candidates to repeat the out-of-nowhere rises of UC Davis and Sacramento State to rate Northern Colorado much higher.   

Dallas:

  • Eastern Washington at 2 – Eric Barriere is one of the best players in the entire FCS, and when you have a quarterback like him running the show, you’re going to have at least a puncher’s chance in every game. Yes, their questionable defense allowed 35 straight points in the first round of the spring playoffs to a weakened North Dakota State. Yes, the receivers drop more passes than they should. Yes, they have an extremely tough conference schedule this year. But, their three toughest games (Montana, Montana State, Weber State) are all in Cheney this year and I’d expect they win two of the three to keep themselves just behind Weber in the conference standings. Even in their last true down year (2015, when Vernon Adams transferred to play his final year at Oregon), they tied for fourth in conference, going 5-3 with two losses to ranked teams.

  • UC Davis at 6 – UC Davis has a deep cast of receivers, a solid defense (as Vandal fans likely remember), and one of the best running backs in the conference. QB Hunter Rodrigues had 21 FCS passes to his name coming into 2021 and may have benefited more from the spring season than any other athlete. So why do I have them sixth? Weber State, Eastern Washington, and the Montana schools certainly look better on paper and should all slot in as top five finishers, even if they trade losses around. I don’t see the Aggies beating Weber State (and yes, I know they had a double digit lead on the Wildcats last season) or Eastern Washington. Even if they beat Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic to finish the year, I don’t think a game in hand on the Hornets helps, courtesy of the absolute gift of a schedule Sacramento State got this year. Nothing against UC Davis, but a top five finish doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

  • Idaho at 9 – Every year it seems I talk myself into Idaho finally becoming a bully in the Big Sky. Take one look at the schedule and you’ll realize why I’m not doing that this year. The Vandals could be favored in three of their four home conference games, but even if they won out at home with an upset of Montana, they will not be favored in a single road game this season. I don’t think they win a single game outside of Moscow this year, even without Paul Petrino’s track record of failure away from the Kibbie Dome. There’s plenty of talent on this team, just like there was in the spring, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it magically clicks this season. 4-4 in conference is the ceiling for this team if things go well, and 2-6 is certainly on the table. We’re looking at another long year.

Replacement Ideas For Week 1 & 3

What does this season hold for Idaho?

The news that the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) and PAC-12 are going to conference only schedule for fall 2020 means Vandal football has an open date week 1 and week 3. For now, Idaho expects to play in the fall and the Big Sky has not ruled itself into conference only schedules. The way the current schedules looks you would not know it. Idaho’s lone non-conference opponent is week 2 at Temple.  With a bye week in week 4 and conference play for us starting week 5 (October 3rd) at UC Davis. Even if you are lucky enough to be part of the planned 5100 in attendance, you will not see the team in Moscow until October 10th against Portland State for Homecoming. We would then play 3 of our next 4 games in Moscow. Before ending the season on a two game road trip.

Football as a whole is up in the air. Does not mean I cannot play mad scientist with our schedule again. I would like to try and just replace the games we are missing in week 1 and 3. Not completely redo the schedule, just plug and play type of solution.

Week 1 Options

Northern Arizona 

It is already going to be an unorthodox season. Why not start it out the same way? Have Northern Arizona (NAU) come to the Kibbie dome twice, week 1 (September 5th) and week 9 (October 31st). NAU originally scheduled to travel to Arizona State before the PAC-12 announced it was going conference only. They were already going on the road. If the Big Sky does not move or cancel football this fall, then Northern Arizona appears to be a school willing to play. The same cannot be said for the California Schools.

At Utah State

Utah State was also hung out to dry like us with Washington State and the PAC 12 decision to not play out of conference. We could renew an old Big West, Sunbelt and WAC rivalry with the ole blue Aggies from the state of Utah. This game was always one of the more fun games on our schedule in the late 90s through the early 2010s. Bring it back. This is type of FBS program we should be scheduling anyways. No better time than now to get them back on the schedule.

At Colorado State

The PAC 12 strikes again. This time in the form of the “Rocky Mountain Showdown”. With week 1 open and a bit of a fun history against Idaho 2009, 2010 and 2016 all being instant classics. This would not be the worst game to schedule. In fact quite the opposite.

At Montana

Instead of paying a school a small fee to come to us. Why not collect a little bit of money to go to Montana. Montana also lost their GNAC opponent week 1, creating an opening. Idaho leads the all-time series 55-29-2. I’m sure Montana wouldn’t mind a chance to knock the series total two closer in their favor in one season. While Idaho wouldn’t mind two chances at getting the Little Brown Stein back or extending the lead by two games.

North Dakota State

I mean it is open for both of us. They were already going to travel to Oregon. Why not host the Bison in Moscow? I mean, there is a ton of reasons. It still would be pretty cool and sure would make those 5100 seats more appealing.

Northern Iowa

Had some classics with these cats in the 90s. They no longer play Iowa, they could play Idaho?

Week 3 Options

At Utah State

Washington Huskies are out. Plug Idaho in. For all the same reasons mention in week 1 explanation. Assuming we didn’t schedule them week 1.

At Air Force

No longer traveling to Purdue. Maybe they would like to host Idaho? We have almost no recent history with this team. But may be fun to start some. Plus with our defense, this could be a game.

At Wyoming

The Utes are no longer on their way Laramie. I know I would like another shot at the Cowboys after last year. Where our upset slipped through our finger tips.

At North Dakota State

NC A&T is out of the picture in week 3 for NDSU. Even if Idaho plays them week 1, a little home and home would most likely benefit both schools. They both miss a PAC 12 payday. Both could save money by not having to pay another school to come. In terms of win, loss record not a strong idea for Idaho. In terms of turning this 2020 schedule into something and having a reliable opponent that has same likelihood of playing as you do, is somewhat unmeasurable in terms of importance this year. Better be quick, best believe James Madison has already made a call.

South Dakota State

Nebraska Out. The Big Ten is doing to the Missouri Valley what the PAC 12 did to the Mountain West and Big Sky. This would give us an opportunity to host week 3 if we went on the road in week 1. I imagine the money may not be there though. This option seems a tad unlikely.

At Portland State / Home vs Portland State

Oregon State is out. Play Idaho twice in 3 weeks? Once in Portland/Hillsboro week 3 and again in week 5 in Moscow. If Idaho is unable to get NDSU or NAU to come to the Kibbie Dome week 1, see if Portland State is willing to travel to Moscow twice. 

Conclusion

The way the season is going it is probably best to hold off on scheduling anyone new. As the college football landscape seems to change daily. More teams may fall off our schedule, more may become available or perhaps even we fall off other teams schedule. I just wanted to have some fun with it.

The right pairing would be important. Are we looking for a fun schedule, a winnable schedule, a fiscally conservative schedule or a mix? I know my dream schedule would be NDSU home and away. The best case schedule would be Week 1: Northern Iowa, Week 3 at Utah State. The safest to stay on the books would be Week 1: Northern Arizona, Week 3 at Portland State, which doubles as our most likely to make the FCS Playoffs if they happen.

Though none of these are likely, I hope this at least made a little bit of that preseason excitement take hold of you for a little bit.